I'm at Dell's financial analyst meeting this month and my big takeaway from this event is that Dell's recent success is largely the result of Dell focusing on being a better Dell. I think this is generally a great practice; in fact, I wrote about this practice earlier in the week, so I won't revisit it here.
One of the more interesting sessions at the conference is the customer panel. Hosted by Dell's CMO, Karen Quintos, the panel was made up of Brad Thompson, head of IT Infrastructure for Target; Becky Sykes, SVP and CIO at Catholic Health Partners; Aaron Beasecker, VP of information technology at Lopez Foods; and Claus Moldt, Global CIO and SVP of service delivery for Salesforce.com.
Here are my notes.
These are large companies with thousands of employees. Each told similar stories of having to deal with significant growth coupled with increasing regulatory requirements. Sykes and Thompson included what appeared to be massive requirements for regulatory oversight. Target, in particular, which is regulated as both a bank and a pharmacy, appeared to have a particularly impressive load.
The image was of folks who not only struggle with the rapid need to increase technology coverage for security, management, regulatory compliance and employee productivity, but also want to be able to lead far less-stressful lives. They mostly talked about how Dell was helping them do that.
On Working with Dell
A constant message was that these companies had Dell employees onsite helping the company determine how to use the services they have purchased and to consider what technologies need to be purchased in the future. They felt that the reason they were loyal to Dell was that the relationship was more than a vendor relationship; it was more like a partnership where Dell's skin was tied to the success of the result.
Dell was favored largely because the company was competitively easy to do business with and seemed to take a sincere interest in the problems the client company had, and not just in selling a new widget or finding something else to charge for. The teams deployed in these firms, rather than causing concerns by forcing technology upgrades the firms weren't prepared for, seemed more interested in making sure the CIO's worries were mitigated. Common terms were "took my concerns away" and "technical competence." Target's representative said he was cheap, he wanted technology to be inexpensive and worry-free and he also wanted the provider to know the business and that is why he ended up with Dell.
As a side comment, you get that a lot of these folks have dealt with vendors, which they didn't call out by name, that don't know what business they are in, only show up when they want to sell something and aggressively look for ways to increase their charges. They are not happy at all with these other vendors.
For Dell, it seems that the compelling argument is a combination of competitive technology wrapped with people who care about the company. They also complimented Dell highly for working well with others, suggesting there are a lot of vendors that currently aren't doing that well (the image of Oracle kept popping into my head as these folks did everything they could think of not to actually name the vendor(s) that they didn't care that much for).
Sitting in the audience listening to these IT executives praise Dell, not so much for Dell's products, but for Dell's approach and particularly Dell's people, warms my heart. For me, what makes a winning vendor isn't the technology or even the price - and we often forget this - it is the quality of the relationship. For most technology companies, it is very difficult to get executives like this to publicly praise anyone as doing so carries a personal risk of pissing off folks who guard the visible face of their companies very jealously. The fact that these executives were even willing to get on stage is a significant event, but that they basically said they couldn't do their jobs successfully without Dell and that it was because of Dell's interest in them as opposed to simply saying nice things about a particular product is also very unusual.
In the end, it showcases some really nice things going on at Dell that others (you know who I mean) should emulate. The important parts include: a sharp focus on the customer's business, the realization that the relationship is more important than any individual sale and that if you take good care of the relationship, the customer will have your back. As a result of this strategy, Target, Catholic Health Services, Lopez Foods and Salesforce.com have Dell's back.